NYFW and The MET Gala Meet to Change the American Fashion Cultural Narrative

Image courtesy of Prabal Gurung

Fashion industry experts have called for the “revitalization of NYFW” this upcoming season in September. Following a year of virtual showings, the absence of prominent designers from New York Fashion Week (NYFW), and a massive decrease in retail footprints due to COVID-19, it feels like 2009 all over again. In 2009, Anna Wintour along with the CFDA debuted Fashion’s Night Out following the 2008 recession. Fashion’s Night Out began in New York as a celebrity-filled event that kept more than 800 stores in the five boroughs open until 11 p.m, in a bid to revitalize the retail industry. Instead of looking to retail stores and celebrities to keep New York alive, the CFDA is debuting a much more tailored revitalization plan this September, with a global mentality that seeks to retain a unique American fashion identity. With the MET Gala scheduled the day after NYFW, there is a unique composition this season that allows for both events to underpin each other and create a new pattern to follow.

Image courtesy of the MET Museum

In an open letter to the CFDA, chairman Tom Ford stated that “New York Fashion Week is always a celebration of American fashion, but this will take on a whole new meaning in September. After two challenging seasons with no in-person gatherings, we anticipate a significant return to live shows. This season’s shows are an opportunity to reaffirm the resilience and independence of American fashion and New York City as a global fashion force.” IMG has taken the first heeled step onto the revitalization runway through their “fashion alliance” sewn together with 11 diverse American designers that form the billowing fabric of NYFW’s future. Designers include Telfar, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Brandon Maxwell, Prabal Gurung, Sergio Hudson, Monse, Jason Wu, LaQuan Smith, and Markarian. All have signed onto a commitment to show collections at this upcoming NYFW as well as the next three seasons. The designers will be backed financially by IMG which makes it possible to produce shows that have more of an impact. Notably, not all designers are born in America, which not only redefines what it means to be American but underscores the designer’s individual stories that brought them here.

Image courtesy of Instagram

Prabal Gurung, for example, was born in Singapore but has been outspoken about his American identity. For his spring 2020 ready-to-wear collection, he sought to identify the meaning of “Americanness.” In an interview with Asia Society, he states, “an investor asked me to express what I felt my brand stood for. I began explaining that American style had always been seen through a white lens. As a first-generation Asian immigrant, a minority, and a queer person of color, I wanted to redefine the country’s style, because our experiences have been underrepresented … after telling me I don’t look American, it was clear to me that he meant that because I wasn’t white, I had no authority to shape the American ideal.” The narrative of Americanism through a white lens is one many have subscribed to; however. the aim of the fashion alliance is to dismantle this narrative and form a new one that redefines and rewrites a story of American fashion culture.

Image courtesy of Prabal Gurung.

Americanism through a global lens is also displayed through the CFDA’s official renaming of the fashion calendar. In an official statement, the CFDA wrote, “it is our job as the CFDA to honor our original mission statement and to help promote and support American fashion. Therefore, we will publish on the schedule not only the schedule of designers showing in New York during New York Fashion Week but also those of American designers showing off-calendar and abroad. To that end, the show schedule that is released by the CFDA each season will be renamed the ‘American Collections Calendar.’” This means that American fashion can still retain its identity outside of country bounds which is an important part of reframing American fashion culture.

Image courtesy of Laquan Smith

This cultural reframing is precisely the intention of IMG, NYFW, and the MET Gala this upcoming season. New York City has often been characterized as the melting pot of America due to the diversity of people and cultures that call it home. The term, however, has really been a form of cultural tokenism as a melting pot implies assimilation, homogeneity, and anonymity. New York City, like IMG’s alliance, is more of a potpourri. Various people and cultures express their individuality and the unique aspects of their identities, enhancing the whole rather than melting into it, resulting in a colorful, bright beautiful fragrance that carries on a breeze, inspiring celebration. The MET Gala strives to capture the celebration this year with its two-part exhibit entitled “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”

 

The theme has garnered large amounts of criticism partially due to decades of American fashion being told through a white lens along with faux diversity efforts bubbling over from America’s melting pot narrative. To see American Fashion; however, as red, blue, and whitewashed denim, is to see only a chapter of a story that, if told in a way that redefines Americanism, can be rich and compelling.

Image courtesy of the Met Museum

Luke Meagher, or HauteLeMode, well-known social media fashion critic, commented on the MET’s theme via Instagram. He writes, “Painting ‘American Fashion’ with a broad brush of just jean shorts and red, white, and blue regalia makes us forget about some of the true revolutionaries that have come out of it. Ann Lowe’s story of talent and design expertise that led her from Alabama to making Jackie Kennedy’s first wedding dress is a story that needs to be known. Her courage to stand up for herself as a black woman prior to segregation’s end shows that white-washed fashion history needs to not be the narrative of this exhibit.”

 

While exhibit details will not be revealed in depth until its opening, Andrew Bolton, MET exhibit curator told Vogue, “I think that in the past a lot of descriptions about American fashion focused on the fact that it’s non-narrative and it’s not about stories, and that’s diminishing the emotional side of American fashion. So, part of the idea of the exhibition is to give American fashion its due, to give back its storytelling abilities.” NYFW and the MET Gala aim to join forces to write new chapters of this ever-evolving story, introducing new main characters that represent more of the truth of what American fashion is or strives to be, and to share this freedom globally.

—Tessa Swantek

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